Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dmac & the Dakota Five-0


“Our life is apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


It has been awhile since I have taken the time to pen a post race report.  For many years, I had taken to a recap of my race events through my experiential lens as a participant.  I’m not sure why I tapered off in these efforts.  I suppose it was mostly due to my belief that those whom did read my musings, had probably lost interest after 8 Etape du Tours and 8 Leadville 100’s.   Perhaps my writer's block has been driven by my “event block” of doing the same events each year, testing my ability to PR, as well as seeking the enjoyment of the community one becomes a member of surrounding these events.

For years, my friends and co-workers have been telling me about the Dakota Five-0 in Spearfish, South Dakota and how great of an event it is.  For one excuse or another, predominantly centered on August historically being incredibly busy for me, I have not signed up.   This year, I decided to sign up out of the belief that I didn’t get into the Leadville 100.  I found out later that it was an email spam filter issue and I in fact did get in.  So I now found myself looking forward to giving it a try with our Midwest Cycling Community and a whole host of friends from around the region.  That’s the community part…which is in many ways the best part of it.

I expected to have a great time at this event due to the accolades it has rightfully been given.   However, I had no idea what was in store when Shawn Hansen messaged me that he had an entry available if I wanted it.  Shawn was unable to attend this year and the kind folks in Spearfish were allowing entry transfers.   I threw it out to my son Dillon (Dmac) not expecting him to jump at the chance just quite yet at age 12.  His longest MTB ride at that point was a lap of Swanson and Jewell with my buddy Steve Jarrett.   Well… as it often turns out, I was wrong.  He didn’t hesitate to say yes and accept the spot.

He had just started racing MTB’s this year.  Through the Omaha Devo youth mountain bike program, he has really started to come into his own.  Along with that, he has made it his mission to earn himself a buckle in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 2019.  That is the year he will be allowed to attempt it due to minimum age requirements for that race.  He has spent the last 7yrs in the feed zones doing sag support for me in this event.  Always there, always dialed, anxiously nervous for my performance and encouraging me at every stop along the way.   That is 28 feed zone hand ups over the years if my math is correct.   He has supported my teammates, family and friends.  He always is at the finish line to take our bikes.  He does this so that we can catch our breath just enough to answer his instant line of questioning on how it went.  He wants to know the details, how it played out, who passed who when, how did you overcome adversity, and the annual musing of…how do you think you would have done if you acclimated to 10,000ft?   He has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.   He has seen me when I couldn’t touch my knees due to back pain, hypothermic, bloody and broken.   He has seen the heartbreak of riders with missed time cut offs, cramping, bonking delirium, and the despair of those that could not finish.   So why would he want to do this type of thing?  Well he has seen the other side of sacrifice as well, and I believe it has left an indelible imprint on his soul. 

From a very young age, while I was racing Etape Du Tours in France each July, he would get up early and watch Tour De France coverage….in it’s entirety….21 stages, 3hrs a day, during the month of July.  He continues to study the teams, knows the riders and loves to talk about it in such a way I think Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett should watch their backs.   When Lance Armstrong lined up to race the Leadville 100, I was lucky enough to be in the starting row with him and I could see the look in Dmac's eyes…the one that told me his wheels were turning, he was setting big dreams for himself one day.  I couldn’t have imagined at that time the gift I would receive along those lines just 5yrs later…a glimpse of the next circle that would be drawn.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend 2014.  My biggest concern going into this event was the marathon nature.  I had complete confidence in Dmac’s ability to ride a mountain bike.   Our Omaha Devo coaches have done a great job teaching and demonstrating the skills he has acquired.  The part that was the outlier, the unknown, was the duration.  He had not ridden more than 2.5hrs in any one setting.   He had certainly never climbed 7,000ft in one day.   How would he handle his hydration and nutrition?  How would he handle the pain cave?  How would he handle his first real bonk?  What if he gets cramps? All unknowns, and as a parent I wondered if at age 12, I had maybe allowed him to attempt something too early.  I hadn’t pushed him into it…but maybe I should have pulled back on the reins a bit?

Like any good parent/coach would do, I nagged the ever-loving heck out of him leading up to the event on how to manage his nutrition, and drink often.   Something I have never seemed to dial in, but surely he must.  I borrowed a Garmin that was set up with drink/feed alerts every 15 mins and 200 calories.  No doubt, with my oversight, this would do the trick, right?  Perhaps, if this worked, I might even pull it off for once as well.  Ironically about 3.5hrs in another rider we were pacing with, heard the beeps and shouted, “It must be time to blow up!” and he immediately slowed down and we passed him.  I mentioned it was for reminding us to drink and eat.  He relayed “I should have thought of that!”

As we continued to discuss strategy for the day, we opted to start in the 2nd wave of the event just 10 mins back from the Pro field in Wave 1.   We discussed the pace strategy and need to get into the single track in as good of a position as we could, due to the difficulty in passing after that point.   We discussed my role as “domestique” (a term commonly used in cycling for the riders that support the team captain).  I would refill bottles and grab nutrition in the feed zones and ride them up to him to hand up since we didn’t have a sag crew and he was running a camelbak.   I figured it was the least I could do for 7yrs of sag support, 28 hand ups and over 56hrs spend in feed zones on my behalf.  He embraced this assignment of roles fully as I soon found myself putting his number plate on, tuning his bike, lubing his chain and pumping up his tires.  I drew the line at fluffing his pillows and cutting his french toast.   One has to retain some level of self-respect!

Dmac on the  start up the gravel road

All the strategy had been set, discussed and agreed upon.   Race day was here and I was excited to line up on the front row of wave 2 next to Dmac.  I've had lots of nervous smiles on the start line over the years, but not bigger than at this moment.  The gun went off and we were on our way.  It was a neutral roll out behind a four-wheeler until we got to the start of the long climb to the trailhead.   Dmac tucked right in behind me and I set the pace near the front of the group.   I could tell the pace was a bit high as I listened to his breathing rate and backed it down a notch.   We held solid position and found ourselves dumping into the single-track with my long time friend and teammate Lowell Petersen.   I was in front of Dmac at this point, and Lowell was behind.  We had a double chaperone set up, something I know he enjoyed a lot more at that moment, than he likely will at Senior Prom. 

As we made our way up to the first feed zone, it became apparent to me that I should not be pace setting in the front.   Dmac, being a tad bit competitive, was likely going to fight to stay on my wheel and blow himself up, instead of riding his pace.  I’m pretty good at reading his exertion levels on road rides, but found it difficult to do on single track due to the gaps needed between riders.  I stopped and let him by and from that point forward, kept talking him through the “Your Race, Your Pace” strategy as we set out knocking off the miles. 

Lowell ended up in front at this point which was great.  It gave Dmac a rabbit to chase on the climbs without feeling he had to stay with him.  And it was great to see the teamwork and camaraderie taking shape as I thought to myself ....  "How cool is this?  I’m riding with one of my best friends in his late 50’s, I’m in my early 40’s, and we have a 12yr old right with us.  What other sport could you compete in and have that experience?!”  It was pretty darn cool to say the least. 

By riding behind Dmac, I could see all the signs and know if he was crossing the red line into the death zone of exertion levels.   He did a great job settling into his pace.   Interesting enough, I found this pace to be harder than I thought I would be riding that day.  As we passed one rider he asked me “Is it wrong that I want to beat your son?”   I smiled, “No, it is not.  I want to beat him too!”  He joked with me that he was sure I could.  I reminded him at that point, that my days are numbered in doing that, and I’ll take any win I can get!

A fellow teammate, Rafal Doloto, had told me prior to the race that your time at Aid Station # 2 is very good indicator of your overall time when you double it.   Dmac, in the process of goal setting, had read past year’s results on the way up in the van and noticed some juniors his age from Colorado Springs had turned sub 5hr times.  As a result he had decided to set his goal as such.   I, of course, was trying to buffer that and reminded him this was his first year racing MTB’s, his first marathon race and we were at altitude.  I told him we just needed to ride his pace and see where that put us.  We could set goals off of that for the future years while training for "Leadville 100 2019".  He agreed, or at least placated me.  He then told me that sub5 was his goal.  Hmmmm…. he must know something I did not.  Honestly, I was hoping for sub 6hr for him and was still very concerned about all the unknowns.

Onward and upward we go to Aid Station #2.   I was refilling bottles and his Camelbak while I took a look at my Garmin. We were in the neighborhood of having not just a sub 5hr finish, but well under 5.   I was shocked and elated and began wondering when the “crack” was going to happen.  Could he get through it?  Could he really pull this off?   We were at his longest ride time and I knew the next 2hrs would be very telling. 

A funny side note, after I had filled his Camelbak I decided I would wear it to chase back up to him.  Turns out I’m not cut out for a youth size Camelbak.  Those straps had my arms pinned back like a T-rex.  When I finally caught him, my hands were numb.  He pulled over to take it back from me.   I couldn’t get it off.   "Fat guy in a skinny jacket" was going through my head from the movie Tommy Boy.   Finally after I struggled for what seemed like an eternity, I looked at Dmac and said “A little help??”   That snapped him out of whatever mind warp he was in, probably imagining I was Tommy Boy as well, and he slid one shoulder down and took his Camelbak.   Dumb and Dumber jumped back on the trail and we headed out.

As we rolled past the 3hr mark, I noticed he had his eating and drinking dialed.  He even began to do so without my or the Garmin prompting him.   He asked a little over 3hrs in how long we had been riding.  I let him know and asked how he felt knowing we were past his longest ride ever.   He said, “I don’t know, Ok I guess,” I could tell the early signs of bonking were happening and I had him take in a few more cliff blocks.  He kept his pace as we headed toward the feed zone #4, the last feed zone before the final “Bacon & Beer” Aid station.

During this time, on the final climb, the wheels began to fall off.  It wasn’t a matter of if it would happen, but when.  That time was now.  He was struggling big time in the pain cave…asking how much further, how much more climbing, cries of exhaustion and pain coming from his legs and lungs.  I knew from being in the pain cave many times myself before, that there is one thing, and one thing only that can take the edge off of that pain.  I decided this was the time to let him know…he was crushing his goals and on the ride of his life.  I said, “Dmac, do you have any idea what you are doing right now???  You are on the ride of your life.  You are absolutely crushing 5hrs, and every bit of yourself you leave on this course, right now, will turn into sweet celebration in the end.  It won’t be easy, but you are blowing this course up.  You can do this and I couldn’t be more proud of you than I am right now.  You’re a machine!”   I knew somewhere in his head, he was channeling his inner Ken Chlouber of the Leadville 100 MTB race, hearing the mantra that is repeated over and over ad nauseam over the past 8yrs in the pre-race pep rally’s in Leadville.… “You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can.  You must commit not to quit!”  I kept drawing parallels for him to the Leadville race.  Letting him know this is what it is like on Power Line, or this is what it is like when you have to dig deep on the finish climb heading into town.   I could tell he was beginning to visualize and put things together.  I could see him become more calm, more focused, more determined.  He was living his dream.

As we bounced out of the single track and onto the final double track climb, I looked and we were at the 4hr mark and we had 12 miles to go.   At this point, I knew barring a mechanical, he had achieved his goal of sub 5hrs.   The emotion hit me.  I was overwhelmed with pride and joy in seeing this kid turn himself inside out to achieve his goals.  I thought of my dad, who would have loved to have been there to witness this and said a little prayer that if he was busy up there in heaven, someone would tap him on the shoulder and have him take a look down.  His grandson was on fire today.
 The 4hr mark with 12 miles to go!

I could hear the pain still coming from him audibly, so I rode up beside him, repeating everything I said above and I saw that pain numb, the effort pick up and the sheer determination on his face grow.   I’m at a loss of words to describe how that truly felt as a father.  It was surreal.  It was unreal.  To be there, by his side, watching every second, every pedal stroke, hearing every groan, every breath taken,watching him persevere and overcome….it was beyond words one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life.   I imagine the wave of emotion I was feeling at that moment was similar to an athlete winning a gold medal in the Olympics.  I have no words…

As we went through the “Bacon & Beer” station, the volunteers held out a beer for Dillon…and then quickly pulled it back once they realized he was slightly under age.  He was receiving all kinds of encouragement from riders, spectators and volunteers along the way.  But none was more spirited than here.  I think it must have been the bacon that was driving the crowd’s enthusiasm for cheering on the yute as he went through.  It was the final aid station and he knew it….we were getting closer.

There were a few more kickers from there to get up to the top of the descent that would take us down, all the way to town.  I kept encouraging him that it was mostly downhill from here, except where it wasn’t.  He didn’t quite appreciate my humor at that point, but when he recognized the part of the course that signaled it was all down hill (he noticed this from our pre-ride the day before), I could see his afterburners kick in.   He was riding even more confident now.  Out of the saddle over the kickers and chasing down riders in front of him.  He asked the time and I told him “4:30! You are killing it!”

As we cleared the single track and headed down the gravel road into town, he was in his biggest gear drilling it.   Riders were zinging by, because as it turns out, 80lbs doesn’t go that fast down hill on gravel.   Each of the adult riders, as they passed was cheering him on and encouraging him.  He kept digging as he tried to hold my draft, down to where the pavement into town began.  I turned to him and said “This is all about you, you take us into town!”  

As he came around me I reached into my pocket and pulled out my IPhone.   I decided I would try and take a video of his finish.   He kept drilling it and I was able to catch the final minute of his finish.  “4:46” I shouted to him as we neared the finish line.  He looked at the adult rider next to him, stood up and accelerated just enough to best him to the line.   I couldn’t read the timer on my Garmin at that point due to the tears welled up in my eyes….but I knew, without a shadow of a doubt….I was getting a glimpse of the circle that is being drawn.  I am beyond blessed to have experienced it that day, in that way.

Looking pretty good at the finish

Proof he beat me....

3rd on the podium in 19 & under
11 riders in his category
 107th overall out of 465 finishers